April 2005

Daniel Nester


An Interview with Camille Paglia

Before she became the porn-friendly pundit who pounces on Puritanical feminists and the poststructuralist powers-that-be, Paglia was a humanities professor. When I lived in Philadelphia, her students would tell me about this crazy professor who walks in with a boombox and blasts Led Zeppelin at top volume.

Paglia’s academic life changed upon publication of 1990’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Her Yale dissertation published some 20 years after taking her degree, the 700-page tome remains an energetic, Freud-friendly reading of Western art, and one that, unleashed at the height of political correctness movement, seemed heretical and perverse. Her characterization of William Blake as the British Marquis de Sade or Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson as “self-ruling hermaphrodites who cannot mate” still pricks up many an English major’s ears. In the book’s aftermath, Paglia became a media celebrity: two essay collections, columns for Salon.com, TV appearances for everything from Monica Lewinsky to Harvard President Larry Summers’ recent female trouble, turning up in this year’s documentary Inside Deep Throat.

With her latest book, Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems, Paglia goes back to her professorial roots. Instead of using a provocative over-arching thesis á la Sexual Personae, she sticks to what is called in the business as the “close reading,” a technique started by the New Criticism movement of the 1930s, in which the text is treated as a stand-alone object. It’s sort of the Texas Death Match of literary analysis: no outside sources, no hagiography, no prose paraphrase, no one gets out alive until each word is combed-over and understood. Break, Blow, Burn’s close readings of 43 poems covers 28 poets from Shakespeare and Shelley to a quirky assortment of modern poetry that ends with the song lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” Beside the book’s slow-burn introduction, the only thing Old School Paglia is the third-personing of herself, Jerry Lee Lewis-like, in the book’s subtitle.

Paglia spoke to Bookslut.com about, among other things, the sorry state of academia, the "cowardliness" of Seamus Heaney, and whether it’s important that a poem is “self-contained.”

I love these close readings -- they bring back memories of my classes at NYU with Denis Donoghue, one of the last giants of the New Critics. Paying attention to the meaning of every word in the poems, all the reverberations and etymology, it’s like reading 43 A+ papers from my students. Tell me more about your attraction to close readings.

I was in college around the time when the New Criticism, which adores explication de texte and all this close reading, was in decline. I would say it was in its height in its founding in the 30s and 40s; but by the 50s, it had become very derivative. It was practiced by these sort of third-raters, people without the real talent and erudition and prose style of the ones who had founded it in North America. And so I was in revolt, I thought, against it in my college years. For example, I found Cleanth Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn absolutely stifling. I found it Protestant. I came from an Italian immigrant family, I thought it was repressive in its exclusion of anything about sex or aggression; its whole idea about the creative process I found sentimental.

It’s a regular at every former college students’ yard or stoop sale.

Right, and I was very dismissive of it. When I got to Yale graduate school from 1968 to ’72, Cleanth Brooks was still around. I would see him on the street. I would never dream of taking a course from him. I thought that history and psychology needed to be added to literature. Even Freud was a no-no; it wasn’t until Lacan brought French Freud in the 70s that it was OK. It was very anti-Semitic in many ways. I know that the Yale English Department had just hired its first Jews in the mid-50s, you know, and they tried to fire them. Harold Bloom and Geoffrey Hartman had to be fired before they were re-hired.

So what turned you around to these close readings?

Well, as the years went on, I started to develop my own particular style, with my dissertation, Sexual Personae, which didn’t get published until 1990. As a teacher, I began to realize that the New Criticism has been the basis of my training, and it gave it a discipline of attention to detail in artwork -- not just poetry, but to painting, everything else. And I observed the destruction of the New Criticism by poststructuralism coming in the 70s, then postmodernism -- they called themselves the New Historicism, which supplanted the New Criticism. And the people practicing it, people like Stephen Greenblatt, they’re not good historians. They’re not erudite. His latest Shakespeare book [Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare], the New York media went bananas, the New York Times Book Review said "it’s one of the ten best books of the year!" That book is atrocious! And I’m glad for anything that gets the general reader into the past, into Shakespeare. But that book is shot through with so many errors. I mean, the later reviews are coming in from the TLS and I think the Harper’s one -- they’re pointing out the basic errors of history, of English history! It’s unbelievable!

So that’s what happened. Academe went off on its theoretical haze. As a consequence, for several decades now, the only students being taught this old style are the retrogrades, the people who are holding out in some way. Or, as I say in my introduction, at the most basic level, at the adjunct level, at the community college level, people who think they have some responsibility to the student to open up the work, okay, and not just to lay on some weird, trendy layer of something else, that supposedly is being practiced by a now-desiccated elite.

At any rate, I feel that the New Criticism, despite all my rebellion, was the basis of my ability for talking about art. Even about film. What I did in my book where I was talking about the Hitchcock film The Birds, which I did for the British Film Institute in 1998, that is a New Critical approach. I go from beginning to end, frame by frame.

What I am saying in this book is that New Criticism is the model for the true cultural critic. Yes, I support all efforts of multiculturalization of disciplines, what cultural studies pretends to do. I support that idea. What cultural studies unfortunately does is that it applies this British Marxist style, very reductionist. It uses things from the Frankfurt School; it’s very prissy about “media,” it’s always turning up its nose at what the people actually want. It pretends to speak to the people when it doesn’t know what the people actually want.

And so much of it draws from classic American misreadings of these European movements, always through a pragmatic lens.

I hear you. I do think post-structuralism had its place -- in France. I do know about French culture, and I admire it. The French really did need deconstruction, but that style is not needed in Anglo-American literature. We have this phenomenal poetry that goes all the way back to Shakespeare and beyond, back to Chaucer, and that’s not true deconstruction, this incredible line. What I’m trying to do in my work is to open up the reader to the artwork. I want the artwork to retain its mystery. These are really my aims. I have a really 60s feeling for the magic of art, a magic hair-raising. I feel very akin to Robert Graves’s book, he had this very strange book that came out...

Do you mean The White Goddess? What a strange-ass book.

Yes! A very strange book, full of nonsense. But -- when he’s talking about the muse, he says things like, When he’s in the presence of a true poet, it’s a hair-raising experience.

I always find myself defending people like Robert Bly, people who think of him in caricature, but he believes in things like the godliness of a poet -- which as a poet, I love to hear.

When I first came on the scene, people used to say, “You sound just like Robert Bly!” So many people said that. And I accepted it gladly, because he was part of that body-centric movement of the 60s. The way I was trained to read literature by Milton Kessler [at Harpur College, part of Binghamton University], who was a student of [Theodore] Roethke, he believed in the responsiveness of the body, and of the activation of the senses to literature. And oh did I believe in that. Probably from my Italian background -- that’s the way we respond to things, with our body. From Michelangelo, Bernini, there’s this whole florid physicality leading right down to the Grand Opera, the great arias.

I feel that post-structuralism has deadened not only the students, but the professors themselves, to literature. There’s been over 30 years of it now. Over 30 years. Where is the great work of criticism by any of these people? Where is the great critic? What have they produced? Nothing.

It’s just a bunch of gobbledygook, all reflecting each other. There’s no single great work that’s come out of criticism in the last 30 years, in the way Cleanth Brooks’ Well Wrought Urn has that kind of relationship, a book you could recommend to let someone know what’s happening in literary criticism. It is such a dead end, a terrible dead end, and what has happened is that talented people have fled the graduate schools. People have to wake up to this. The people at the top now, people from my generation, who are in the Ivy League, from coast to coast, to Berkeley, their work is mediocre. They have not done what they claim to do, and what they’ve done is driven out talented people.

I meet them everywhere, people who started graduate school and left it, OK? They’re in publishing, they’re in media, they’re in all kinds of jobs, because they couldn’t stand it. They wanted to study literature and art, but had every obstruction put in their paths. They take quality drugs for impotence. They not only had to read Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, who had nothing to do with literature, but they had to read critics talking about Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, none of whom are philosophically trained, okay?

Judith Butler, she pretends to be a philosopher out there [University of California, Berkeley], but she’s not recognized in philosophy, her knowledge of anything. She was a student when I was at my first job at Bennington in the 70s, and I saw her up close. And I know what she knows. I mean, she transferred from there, to Yale, and her background in anything is absolutely minimal. She started a career in philosophy, abandoned that, and has been taken as this sort of major philosophical thinker by people in literary criticism. But has she ever made any exploration of science? For her to be dismissing biology, and to say gender is totally socially constructed -- where are her readings, her studies? It’s all gameplay, wordplay, and her work is utterly pernicious, a total dead-end.

So, in this book -- and I was pleased to see in the review of this books by Clive James in the New York Times Book Review -- I was pleased to see what he immediately saw: That this book is part of my war against literary theory.

These readings spring out of your years teaching, right?


Do you find that close readings are especially important for students -- my experience sometimes is that students think that to do disinterested, critical close reading isn’t important or is beneath them. and to jump straight to reviewing, their opinion, and thumbs-up-thumbs-down judgment? They think close readings aren’t important.

Yes well, I think that’s one reason I drifted away from poetry -- even though in Sexual Personae, 13 out of the 20-some chapters were on poetry, it’s been my basis -- is because I do see what you say in the classroom. But lyric poetry is the great equalizer in the classroom. And we’re not talking about the Ivy League or prep schools -- but the kind of teaching I’ve done over the years -- adult classes, dancers -- they can be this wide range of students. They can be geniuses, or non-literate, non-native speakers. Lyric poetry, to me as a teacher, is one of the best ways to remove any privilege the better-educated students have in the classroom might have.

There’s an intimidating glibness the best students have in the classroom. They slink back in the back of the classroom and intimidate the others. But with the lyric poem, everybody can have success with it. I’ve had this total success with it. I have found that, say, a shy African-American student, completely silent, never says a word, has a difficult time, and boom! She’s brimming with ideas.

These “self-contained” poems, as you say, are on the jukebox of successful classroom experiences. I often get pushback from the students from good schools who want to bring outside ideas to their close readings.

I can’t stand that when I get the show-offy thing. Making allusions. Close readings allow people to give a chance to every student. To me, it’s very heartwarming to see students gain confidence, students who have no background in these things. They actually are often trained in music, I find. They get it. The performing artists. The writers, they don’t have the chops, the sense. I’ve had great luck with little pieces, Chinese poetry translations from years ago. Little tiny poems -- whooh! -- the students love to see how small the poem is, the self-containment. It’s also like looking at a painting. Over the years, at the University of the Arts, sometimes I’ll do intro freshman courses in postmodernism, interdisciplinary courses, and there will be slide lectures. Slide-slide-slide. Then the students will look at a self-contained, lyric poem, right there in front of you, like a painting on a wall.

So this book is recommended to all teachers who are struggling everywhere. In community colleges. I want to give everyone courage in their convictions. To feel that they are part of a movement. To feel that are not left behind by the chic and trendy crowd, okay? I want also to encourage people to continue on with their aim to get into graduate school in the humanities, to stay there, to fight it out, and to reclaim the profession. Because right now all that’s left are the time-servers who are moving up.

You know, all the time I run into people who are recent graduates of Harvard and Princeton and other places, and I am appalled how little they know about the arts. They think they had good liberal arts courses, but they actually didn’t. The amount of time was limited that they exposed themselves to great art. Their teachers were too concerned with being trendy and so on. It takes them years to purge themselves of that, and they’ve lost a moment when they could develop their own voice. Every one of my teachers in college, from Kessler on down, encouraged the development of the individual voice -- your voice, my voice. And so I feel so lucky to have gone to Harpur College, at that moment, and I’ve had all these years to work on my voice, my writing, without anyone intruding into it, and making me write in that gobbledygook. To me, it’s a tragedy of American letters, of American culture. It’s going to affect the arts. You know, this stuff seeped into the visual world of the 80s, all this irony and postmodern stuff. It’s fatal for creativity. We have to go back to the authentic 60s cultural movement about the senses.

This poststructuralist thing was a horrible evasion. It’s not even good thought, it’s not even good philosophy. You run into people all the time who think that Foucault invented an idea that Heraclitus had. Oh, “All things flow, all things are relative”! They don’t even know Nietzsche, they only know Foucault! It’s unbearable. It’s all part of my war.

Although in your 43 close readings in this book, you largely steer away from your whipping boys, but every once in awhile the interpretive Paglia peeks through in the readings: The sexual imagery in Herbert, the "horror movie" ending in Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” your conflicted reading of Plath’s “Daddy.” I’m wondering if you ever wanted to get more personal in these essays, present yourself more? Did you feel at all straitjacketed from bringing in outside texts or a larger, overarching thesis, as you did in Sexual Personae? Or did you enjoy it in a sadistic way?

I just felt it was important to submerge my personality, except in the intro, into the work. Every now and then, there will be flash. The girl standing on the subway in the [Paul] Blackburn poem [“The Once-Over”], for instance. Maybe doesn’t want to crease that dress!

I think I’ve had quite enough publicity. I couldn’t get published until I was 43. And then I had more publicity than I could possibly want. So I feel I should use my name recognition for service, for art. That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to stay invisible. I’m on a crusade.

This is authentically how I approach literature and art. It’s Italian, in a way. I do revere the artist, I do revere the art. And I feel the artwork radiates, and you expose yourself to it, and you may not know maybe until years later how that particular, impossible-to-understand artwork works on you. And that’s why I get so angry when people say, “Oh, all this ‘Great Works’ stuff, the Canon, you don’t need any of that.” I always say that canons are always in flux -- but it’s the obligation of every critic and teacher to choose what they think are the best, that you are giving value. The student is there, and is paying -- or the parents are paying -- to be instructed, exposed, I keep saying exposure—to what has been considered great.

Now, how do we determine what is considered great? By influence. You can see back through history there are certain works that have influence. It’s not critics really who say what is in the canon -- it’s artists who determine it. I see it everywhere. I see it in rock music, with Robert Johnson down to Keith Richards, all kinds.

I believe in continuity. And there again I’m going against the grain, because New Historicism and poststructuralism believes in breakages, and it’s so stupid. It’s not as if these theories are coming from people who are deeply learned. I cut my teeth on those great works of German philology -- I read them in the English -- from the late 19th century, early 20th century, those grand comprehensive works. One of the great examples of that style is Arnold Hauser’s The Social History of Art. Which is Marxist, okay? But it shows how you can do Marxist criticism by actually being attentive to the object. And also be attentive to the chronology.

Everything I do is chronological. You know even that is considered reactionary? There’s a reason why Sexual Personae was a hit with the readers, and why this book is, too. I’m not trying to play games with the reader. I’m not saying, “Ooh, look how clever I am.” I’m just a teacher in the classroom from beginning to end.

That took a long time to do -- the book took me five years. It took two years to write, and I spent two more years just on the prose. Now, my editor, LuAnn Walther, deserves credit for being patient with me, because most publishers are like, “C’mon, hand it in, you’ve got this deadline.” But it’s an issue of quality over quantity. And for five years I’ve kept a low profile. And Clive James [of The New York Times Book Review] may not know that, because he’s in England, and he looks me up on the web and he sees I’ve been quoted everywhere.

You really have been keeping a relatively low profile.

For five years. I was a columnist for Salon for six years from 1995 to 2001, and I resigned to work on this book. And I just worked on this book, to try to make the reader, the general reader, feel that you are in the poem, that you haven’t left the poem.

That turned out to be a difficult task for me as a teacher. Because I realized when I started writing the book, that when you’re in the classroom, everyone is looking at the poem. If you are talking, everyone is looking at the poem. Now, what do you do when you’ve got the poem in the book, and we leave the poem to read what I’m saying? This turned out to be a very difficult problem for the writing. It took two years to work and work and work to make everything look easy and lucid and natural, and yet somehow retain the mood that you have when you’re reading the poem.

You will notice there’s no major contemporary poets. Which surprised me, because in the original proposal, when I submitted it to Random House, it had all the probable names -- oh, Ammons, Snodgrass, Ashbery. Everybody was on that list. Then, when I actually went to choose the poems, I said “Wow…”

Yeah, that’s my next question. You say, for instance, that you were “shocked at how weak individual poems have become over the last 40 years.” Would you accept the possibility that perhaps some ideas on prosody have passed you by? That the idea of a poem being “self-contained,” as you say, and systematic, that isn’t so important anymore?

Well I know that, and I was looking at all the Language poets and all the experimental poets. That’s what I was looking for. I was looking for something to be able to put in the book, to give an example to the general reader of the way ideas of poetry have changed. But quite frankly, I couldn’t find an individual poem that stood up.

When I found something interesting, I would Xerox it. I worked through this pile and found some that were very extreme. What happened was that they were either too long or too quirky. For this book, they have to stand up.

I was expecting at least something like Robert Creeley’s “I Know a Man.” Was nothing there?

I couldn’t believe Creeley was not in this book! I could not believe it. He was so revered. He read at my school, and he was this huge presence. And I went and looked, and I said, “Oh my God.” And I realized that I knew Creeley primarily through readings, and that how many times and how many poets I was spellbound in the readings. That led me to realize that decades have passed, and the dust is settling, and we have to say, “What has lasted?”

And some people may say, and many people do, working artists, that a work of art, like the Christos’ “The Gates” in Central Park, that a work of art is not a permanent thing. It’s a moment and that’s it. I support that in some ways. I love all of those fantastic experiments in the arts in the 60s, those cross-fertilizations of dance and theater and happenings, you know. Charlotte Moorman sitting down nude to play a cello in the middle of the street.

But here’s the point: Now we have to ask about legacy, about what is left. Is it going to be gone with the wind? Don’t you want to communicate with the next generation, and the one after that? That’s what I’m saying. I totally support every avant-garde moment in the arts, but at a certain point, you have to say, “OK, you have a certain responsibility to do something, to take all your imagination and all your learning, and leave something for the next generation to get at a distance.”

But are you measuring this by whether something is “self-contained” and lends itself to a close reading? I mean, I’ve written close readings myself, and there’s always an impulse to tie a bow on the reading at the end of it, no questions left of why a poet wrote that word or line…

There’s so many poems I find interesting and I’m fond of that didn’t make the book, because they didn’t have that quality.

Could you name some names here?

Well, I always thought that Mark Strand would be on my list, you know. He went to Yale with me, and I thought, my friend is getting in. Then I went back to actually find one, okay, and there was one poem, but it didn’t quite fit in the book, this wonderful poem about his penis when he’s courting the woman he would marry [“Courtship”]. And he says, “My penis is huge.” And she recalls “His penis is very small.” And he says “I have no penis.” And it’s a wonderful poem.

But I have to ask, does that poem belong in this book along with Yeats “The Second Coming.” I was very influenced by Ginsberg, too. There’s “A Supermarket in California,” but that one is too long.

Besides the question of inclusion of exclusion of poems in this book, which is kind of a pedestrian question, I do have to ask at least about Ginsberg. He represents this Whitmanian expansiveness that you love. And I guess it would be entertaining for me to read you writing about, say, 20 or so lines from “Kaddish.” But that wouldn’t really do the trick, right?

Those are the things I thought of as I got to the end of doing this book. I did excerpt Whitman [“Song of Myself”], and I would have excerpted “Howl.” And it’s a huge one, he was such a huge influence. I mean, I saw him read once, and met him once at a festival for Leslie Fielder. But the only self-contained one was a poem that was very early on, a poem I have never seen, a very interesting one. And to excerpt him -- what am I going to take, the first lines of “Howl,” and to set it all up? It doesn’t work in this book. And besides that, I do feel that the Beats are represented in this book with Gary Snyder, and I feel that the [Paul] Blackburn poem, even though he’s associated with other movements, represents a Beat sensibility.

I thought your choice of the Paul Blackburn poem was great. So many poets love that poem.


It’s a very hip choice. All my New York poet friends will love you for it.

Really? Why?

Well, Blackburn’s kind of overlooked, and a lot of people love that poem in particular.

Hmm. That’s interesting.

Any other names?

OK, now Elizabeth Bishop: I thought she was going to be a shoe-in for this book. But when I actually looked at the work. I found it extremely disciplined and all, and she’s a true artist, esteemed by all the male poets of her generation. I thought I would include a poem about Brazil or something, and then I went to that fish poem [“The Fish”].

Now. The fish poem might have worked, except that after going though this project, searching searching searching for contemporary poets, I got so sick and tired of seeing poems about animals. It was animals are injured, dying.

I think there’s a Hayden Carruth essay that says that every poet of the last 50-60 years has to have a poem about an animal. There’s Galway Kinnell’s “The Bear,” James Dickey’s “The Heaven of Animals,” the anthropomorphic list goes on.

And they always make them suffering. It’s like their alter-egos, their victims. And Bishop’s poem, I said to myself, “Oh no, another self-identified fish.”

Then I was looking for sports. I thought, “I need to get a sports poem.” And I thought Marianne Moore, baseball. I thought she was a shoe-in. But there was all this whimsy, this self-consciousness. I know she means a lot to a lot of people, but I couldn’t find one that was strong for the book. And all the sports poems were like these lame, “Oh, I’m writing about sports now, I’m so hip.”

None of them will be better than the Williams’ poem “The Crowd at the Ballgame” anyway.

Right. What I realized was that most poets are alienated from the rest of American culture -- that is, sports, media. I looked for the media poem, too. And the only one I could find was Chuck Wachtel’s poem [“A Paragraph Made Up of Seven Sentences Which Have Entered My Memory Via Hearing Them or Reading Them and Have Each Left an Impression There Like the Slender Scar Left by a Salamander in a Piece of Rapidly Cooling Igneous Rock”]. And the only one before that was a passage from Ginsberg, the passage, where says he’s obsessed with Time magazine [“America”]. And there’s something wrong here, that for 50 years there’s nothing in between. The poets’ resistance to media, the surrealism, they don’t understand the way the popular mind works. It’s another reason why many poets are alienated from the rest of society.

I don’t think it’s as simple as poets can’t afford cable or they don’t want to watch TV. I think it’s a matter of subjectivity, whether these as-yet unwritten, media-savvy poems can withstand a close reading like in your book. And that’s why I think the Wachtel reading is so interesting. Rather than get all hung up about references, for instance, you just explain what the reference to the TV station WABC is in the poem. We live in a world now that, in order to sign up for being a poet, it’s more important to know the names of the flowers than what that thing was on Bush’s back in the debates.

Right, and you raise another point. I was looking for the political poem. I remember all these anti-war poetry readings in college, and when I went to look for them, and they were horrible.

I think even the poets who wrote them back in the Vietnam era would agree with you.

But the recent poems that make reference to politics are childish. And when I went to Seamus Heaney’s poetry, I thought there would be something about imperialism and the way things are in Ireland, and there was nothing. Third-rate Yeats is what I found in Heaney. That guy is a coward. He has never written a poem that addresses, passionately, or engages with, his own country’s terrible political state, the cataclysms for centuries. People praise him as if he is a bold speaker? He’s not a bold speaker.

I went to look for poems that addressed our country after Bush was elected, and they were so stupid! One went something like, “Dick Cheney came to the White House today/Dick Cheney came to the White House today.” Ah! The whole thing was this silly, 13-year-old level.

One of your aims of the book is to “challenge contemporary poets to reassess their assumptions and modus operandi.”

Yes, I want poets to engage with people outside their own circles. Stop preaching to the choir all the time. You should start thinking about addressing the mass of the country that’s voting the opposite. That’s your audience, too. And until you get that breadth of imagination, to try to put things in terms that are understandable to those who don’t agree with you, not just those who agree with you, you’re lost.

Where is the strong poem that talks about imperialism that doesn’t just recite formulas? All this sarcastic, snide, derisive, nyah-nyah- nyah-nyah- nyah-nyah thing.

A poem like “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath sets an example to people, whether poets want to write political poems, feminist poems, or whatever. It’s because of the way she gets to be outrageous and confrontational without losing the artistry. The way she’s able to use imagery and drama, okay? It pulls you into this crazy rhythm where you feel like it’s a nursery [rhyme] about to explode. And she found an artistic medium to couch her very inflammatory, interpretative sentiments.

You seem very conflicted about all this in your reading, though.

Well, I’m questioning it, because I feel that it is a bit blatant. When she gets to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. I mean, if I were her, I’d say to myself, “Do you really feel like this? When you don’t ever have a care in the world -- beside trying to commit suicide, of course -- and won every prize, do you really think there’s a parallel between what your life and the horrors experienced by the millions in concentration camps? Do you think that’s justified? And if it is justified, is there a way that it isn’t so blatant?” And I think it’s the roll call of the name of the camps, that’s vulgar on some level. I mean, once you say “Hitler,” once you say the Mein Kampfs and all that, do you really need to name the concentration camps, to identify yourself with these places that have been sanctified by atrocity?

[She mentions she has to go to take care of some child care responsibilities.]

OK, one last question: Do you write poems?

I did as a young person in high school. I did a little in college. And then I stopped. I felt that my love of poetry carried over to my prose. I think what I am doing is a sort of prose poem. I love Walter Pater, his writing on the Renaissance and the Mona Lisa, this low-key kind of prose poetry. I’m very influenced by that. I think I’ve absorbed that into my writing.